Bonhoeffer’s Teaching on Preaching

Here’s our #1 all-time viewed post. This post was highlighted by Tim Challies which boosted the number of views. While Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer is now a few years old, if you haven’t read it yet, it would be a great read this summer! Bonhoeffer’s commitment to Christ was costly and inspiring!


If you aren’t familiar with the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you should change that.

Bon Met

Bonhoeffer’s example of standing for Christ under the Nazi regime will inspire fresh courage in you (I’d recommend Eric Metaxas’ book: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy).

A lesser-known part of Bonhoeffer’s ministry centers on the two years he headed up an underground seminary in Finkenwalde (1935-1937). During these years he trained future pastors—preparing them for ministry in a turbulent, hostile society.

Bon 14

Some of his lectures from Finkenwalde are preserved in Volume 14 of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. I found his lecture on preaching to be fascinating. While I differ with some of his views (for example, he dismissed the need for sermon introductions, conclusions or applications), I’m convinced Bonhoeffer has much pastoral and homiletical wisdom to pass on to all who preach or teach God’s Word:

Here are a few of his insights that I found to be highlights:

On keeping the sermon tied to the text of Scripture:
“A sermon is discourse that is characterized as being a sermon on a given text. Because the sermon claims to be God’s word, it is bound to Scripture. The promise that it is God who is speaking derives solely from the sermon itself being commensurate with Scripture.” (14: 489)

On how to write out your sermons:
You should not write the sermon all at once. Stay with the chosen text . . . . Begin at latest on Tuesday, have it finished at latest on Friday. You must work on it at least twelve hours. A written sermon that is finished is not yet a finished sermon!” (14:488)

On getting free from your notes as a preacher:
“Memorize not words but connected lines of thought. For every section, note the first and last ideas, then the material between them. ” (14:488)

On the importance of Saturday night for Sunday sermons:
“By all means keep Saturday evening free . . . . Refuse basically all invitations within the congregation.” (14:488)

On effective sermon delivery:
“Monotony, lack of movement is false. Speak with the utmost truthfulness, naturalness, [and] simplicity; no senseless screaming to wake the congregation up! When speaking about the trumpets of the Last Judgment, no need to suggest that we ourselves are those trumpets. [Speak with] as much enthusiasm as possible for the subject matter. Genuine pathos! [Speak with] as much confidence and cheerfulness in the exclusive power of the word.” (14:505-6)

On how to tell when preaching is having a fruitful impact:
“The best sign of a good pastor is that the congregation reads the Bible.” (14:489)

On the value of a loyal, honest wife:
“Lucky the preacher who, since married loyalty is the best, finds in his spouse his own conscience, such that she has the courage for truth, precisely for the sake of love, and does not shrink . . . from criticizing and admonishing . . . . Thank God if you have a wife who genuinely can criticize you.” (14:502, footnote 82)


  1. Great ideas!

    I do find it a great relief to know that the Word of God is not dependent upon the winsomeness or intellect or delivery of the preacher…but that it “will not return void, but will accomplish that for which it sets out to do.”

    There is real power in the preached Word!


  2. Some nice quotes, but would be nice if you spelled Bonhoeffer’s name as it’s commonly spelled. Bonhoeffer, not Bonhoffer.

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